I saw Lord of War on Saturday night. I left there in the equivalent of "book shock." That is the state of mind, when I finish an exceptionally solid book, where I am disassociated from my normal emotional/mental balance as I try to digest and dissect and store everything I've just experienced through another narrator’s presentation.
Lord of War was presented as a flashback from the point of view of Yuri Orlov, played by the unattractive* and well-spoken Nicolas Cage.
The documentary effect of the movie flattened most efforts of the actors to bring any depth to their characters. It also made some of the most horrific parts seem almost normal. "Ask the white man, he'll know." "Mister, will my arm grow back?"
The discovery that I am immunized against real-life violence to the point that I can watch this movie without nightmares is more personally horrifying than the movie's contents.
And now, back to the review.
Lord of War was definitely an interesting movie on two different levels of production/acting. The first level was the personal presentation of a man who was almost believably amoral. The second level was the documentary effect of that amoral man narrating the life of an international arms dealer. Many of the camera angles provided illustration to the narration (from Yuri's point of view) and many others panned back so that the viewers could see the narrator [not] reacting to the scene as it unfolded. The camera choices were rather typical and bland, much like the narration... except when they weren't. The credits rolled from a bullet's point of view – from production to shipping to shooting.
I found the narration of what is/was/will happen at the conclusion of the movie to be well joined, if a bit short in time span for that technique. Afterwards, I found myself comparing the interrogation scene with "The Usual Suspects."
The best moral lecture in the movie was a lecture on right and wrong, on humanity and humans, delivered by Bridget Moynahan, in one of the only scenes where she was given room enough to try to act.
There were some interesting casting choices as well, and not all of them were for the better:
Ethan Hawke played the Interpol agent tasked with pinning Yuri. It took a while for me to decide he was ok for the role. He looked more like a fighter pilot (a'la Top Gun) than a police officer. Of course, since his face is indelibly marked in my mind as Todd Anderson from Dead Poets Society, it’s tough for me to put him in any other role.
The "old school"” arms dealer was cameo'ed by Ian Holm. I recognized him from his role as Priest Vito Cornelius from Fifth Element, but it took me two days to realize that he also played Bilbo Baggins in the more recent Lord of the Rings movies. This, I think, is a reflection of his too-soft, too-confused-looking face during his last appearance in Lord of War.
On the other hand, Jared Leto was both good-looking and a good choice for a perpetually emotionally lost younger brother. Whether it was actually in the movie as a rare subtlety or I projected it into the character, I easily sympathized with his blind grasping for both a moral compass (totally un-provided by his older brother) and a personal meaning for life. This quest was, of course, ruined by a lack of self will and self direction until the most cliche'ed part of the film.
*It's weird. I find Bruce Willis physically unattractive, yet very appealing in personality on screen in many strange things (Fifth Element, Hudson Hawk). In contrast, Nicolas Cage is neither attractive nor appealing in anything I've seen him in since Moonstruck... to the point that the various "love" scenes in Lord of War made me wince.